Let there be trophies

V Krishnaswamy | Updated on January 02, 2020 Published on January 02, 2020

Lock target: India’s hope for laurels in shooting depends on prodigies such as Manu Bhaker (left) and Saurabh Chaudhary, both aged 17   -  PTI/ARUN SHARMA

The coming decade could change India’s image in world sport

The crystal ball is reflecting some rosy pictures. As we gaze into the future to see what the world of sports has to offer in the coming decade, it appears that India does have a greater chance of making its presence felt in varied fields.

This year will be the testing time. A good number of Indians — 60 or so at the last count — have punched their ticket to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. But how will India fare at the end of the new decade — at the 2028 games?

It’s going to be a long haul, considering that independent India had not won more than one medal at the Olympic Games before 2008 (barring 1952, when it won medals for hockey and wrestling). The haul of six medals from London in 2012 has been the best so far. In 2016, the tally came down to two.

Yet, as we come to the end of the second decade, the future looks bright for the next 10 years. Indians have improved consistently at the Commonwealth and Asian Games, and, while the progress has been a lot slower at the Olympic platform, there is hope.

Consider shooting. The team is young, and raring to go. A good part of the 2020 shooting team could figure not just in 2024, but also 2028. Prodigies such as Manu Bhaker (women’s 10m air pistol), Saurabh Chaudhary (men’s 10m air pistol) and Divyansh Singh Panwar (men’s 10m air rifle) are all 17 years old. Aishwarya Pratap Singh Tomar (50m men’s rifle 3 position, individual) is 18, while Yashaswini Singh Deswal (women’s 10m air pistol) and Chinki Yadav (women’s 25m pistol) are both 22 and Angad Vir Singh Bajwa (men’s skeet) is 24. Shooters are known to remain highly competitive and relevant into their 30s or beyond, so this lot seems here to stay.

Shooting apart, in recent times Indians have picked up medals in boxing, wrestling and badminton. Sure, there has been an odd finalist in athletics or gymnastics or some other discipline, but the medal cupboard has largely been bare. But that may change as the decade unfolds.

The difference between yesterday and tomorrow is that India, today, has a bunch of youngsters eyeing the top spot. They have been winning medals in disciplines such as badminton, boxing, wrestling and even weightlifting. And girls and women’s sections are becoming more and more prolific.

Keep an eye on badminton. This coming decade could see quality badminton academies, including some from the likes of Saina Nehwal, who won India’s first-ever Olympic medal in the discipline in 2012. She may well set up an academy with her shuttler-husband Parupalli Kashyap, another classy player. They could be following in the footsteps of their coach Pullela Gopichand. PV Sindhu, India’s first badminton finalist at the Olympics (in 2016), could be using her recently acquired management degree to pursue a new career away from the court, so badminton does have a future on the medal chart. Lakshya Sen (18), who was the world’s No. 1 junior in 2017, has been winning medals regularly. The winner of a silver medal at the 2018 Youth Olympics could well be a medal winner at the 2028 Olympics.

Manipur’s Maisnam Meiraba Luwang, just 16, is a rare talent. He is on a major upswing, having won three junior international badminton titles in 2019. And let’s not forget 19-year-old Siril Verma, a recent winner at the South Asian Games.

Among the women stars in the making is Gopichand’s 16-year-old daughter, Gayatri. She reached the final of the South Asian Games, where she lost to fellow Indian Ashmita Chaliha, 20. Vaishnavi Reddy, who this year won a junior title in Belgium and reached the final in Finland, is a prospective medal winner, as is Malvika Bansod, an 18-year-old from Nagpur, who won senior title in Nepal and the Maldives in 2019.

Wrestling promises to bring in medals. If the Haryana wrestler Sakshi Malik was one of India’s face-savers in 2016, the future belongs to athletes such as Sonam Malik (65kg) and Komal (40kg), both 15 and winners of the Cadet World Championships.

Among the boys, there is the hugely talented Deepak Punia, 20, who within a month of winning gold at the World Juniors reached the World Seniors final in the 86 kg category. Considering wrestlers mature and reach their peak in the mid-20s — or even later — Punia, also a rare world-class Indian in a heavyweight category, is the lad to watch out for in 2028.

Look out also for India’s current women’s weightlifting star Mirabai Chanu, 24, and Jeremy Lalrinnunga, 17, who won a gold medal at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. There is similar talent in boxing.

Eight to 10 years is a long time in sports, so a star today may also fall tomorrow. But platforms such as Khelo India School and Khelo India Youth Games have been successful in picking out talent. The willingness of federations and the government to fund and send sportspersons to junior internationals, Asian and World meets will, in the years to come, lead to great successes.

We may well be looking at a new dawn in Indian sports.

V Krishnaswamy has covered the last seven Olympic Games, nine Asian Games and seven Commonwealth Games

Published on January 02, 2020

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